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Unequal treatment of inequality
on 4 September 2011
I suspect that most reviews are disproportionately either 1 or 5 star. This is to be expected, people are more likely to put finger to keyboard if they really like or dislike a work rather than one that doesn't induce strong views.
I'm conscious that I'm writing this review long after the main body of reviews have been written so I am concentrating on two points of negative criticism. I suggest anyone reading this read the other reviews on .com or .co.uk also to get a more complete view.
Western racism in general and (white) American racism in particular is a major theme. Far more space is given to the struggles of African-Americans than to those of other disadvantaged groups. The issue is treated in a somewhat black and white manner. On page 470 we are told "whites used every means they could of, including murder, to prevent black voter registration". A word like "some" or even "many" in front of the word "whites" would not have tarred an entire group with the same brush. On page 482 we are told that "African-Americans are seven times more likely to be jailed" without being told what the African-American crime rates are (e.g. that African-Americans commit murder at about seven times the rate at which white Americans do). On page 490 we are told "that African-American society is the source of the overwhelming majority of cultural innovations in the west".
African-American society has made a hugely disproportionate contribution to innovation in popular music but in what other area can the same be said?
For me Mr Osborne's coverage of post-WW2 is unbalanced as evidenced by the fact that William Calley, Quentin Tarantino and Hype Williams are deemed worthy of mention but not Norman Borlaug, Neil Armstrong or James Watson.
While the Korean War barely rates a mention Vietnam is dealt with in depth. We are told that the war "quickly became a conflict between outsiders - the Americans - and local people" and that Nixon "managed to involve Cambodia". In conclusion we are told that "(B)y the end of the war in 1973, 58,174 Americans had been killed...it is estimated that around one million Vietnamese soldiers and four million civilians lost their lives".
Now for a writer who writes so much about racism Mr Osborne is guilty of treating the anti-communist Vietnamese as non-existent or, at best, "puppets". Non-Western casualties of the Vietnam War are uncertain but for every American killed about 4 or 5 South Vietnamese soldiers were killed. They don't exist for Mr Osborne. The civilian casualties are generally estimated in the 2 million range and no effort is made to guestimate who killed how many of them. Nixon didn't "involve" Cambodia. The communists did. Nixon escalated it.
Most telling is that he thinks the war ended in 1973 not the actual year of 1975. 1973 was the year American troops withdrew as did, so it would seem, Mr Osborne's interest.
Why then the 3 star rating? Well, as I said, I was concentrating on two specific criticisms. Most of the book I find a solid if unspectacular piece of writing.
Perhaps writers of world or civilizational histories might be better advised to end their narrative a few decades before present but perhaps their motive for getting through the first few millennia is to get to give us a piece of their mind at the end.